Out of the Blue - H.C. McNeile - ebook

Out of the Blue ebook

H. C. Mcneile

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Opis

The motive in the case of murder – this is the first thing that draws the attention of the police. No one except a madman commits murder for no reason. Passion, hatred, money – as soon as the motive is established, it, as a rule, unmistakably points to someone. That is why Pender took the club with Sinclair’s arm and walked with him part of the way to his house on Brook Street. A very normal phenomenon on the part of one of Sinclair’s best friends. He was damn smart about that. No one knew, no one even had a ghost of suspicion of the deadly hatred he was experiencing. Everyone thought they were friends: even Sinclair himself thought so. Tomorrow it will be a little shock for him when he realizes the truth.

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Liczba stron: 367

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Contents

I. OUT OF THE BLUE

II. THE STRANGE PASSING OF PIERRE

III. THE FILM THAT WAS NEVER SHOWN

IV. A FUNNY LITTLE MAN

V. THE DOWNFALL OF YOUNG THOMPSON

VI. THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW

VII. UNCLE JAMES'S GOLF MATCH

VIII. MARK DANVER'S SIN

IX. THE MISSING LINE

X. STUBBY

XI. BULTON'S REVENGE

XII. COINCIDENCE

XIII. THE PORTERHOUSE STEAK

I. OUT OF THE BLUE

BASIL PENDER looked thoughtfully round his sitting-room. Everything was just as usual–the prints, the photographs in their silver frames on the piano, the books in the corner: they were all just as they had been for the last five years. To-morrow night also there would be no change. The same prints, the same books, the same cease.less rumble of London traffic coming through the open window.

To-morrow night it was true he would not be there himself. It was unfortunate but unavoid.able. He would have liked to have spent the first few hours after he had murdered Sinclair in the surroundings where he had so often murdered him in spirit. But it was impossible.

It was something at any rate to have been able to begin his scheme in this familiar atmosphere. It augured well for success. No undue hurry: nothing precipitate–just the quiet, orderly, working out of a carefully considered plan. And the first move in the game had already been taken.

Such a simple little move–and yet very important. It was in details of that sort where brain came in. Who would possibly attach any significance whatever to the fact that he had removed one of his two cars from the garage where he habitually kept them both, and placed it in another, where he was quite unknown? What had such a simple fact to do with murder?

He smiled gently, as ho helped himself to a whisky and soda. He was thinking of the conversation he had been listening to at the club only that very evening. Creswell, of the police, had been holding forth on crime; and an intolerable bore he was. And yet there had been a certain amount of truth in what he had said.

Undoubtedly the motive in a case of murder is the first thing for which the police look. No one but a madman commits murder without a motive. Passion, hatred, money–once the motive is established, it generally points with an unerring finger at someone. That was why Pender had left the club arm in arm with Sinclair, and walked with him part of the way to his house in Brook Street. A very normal proceeding on the part of one of Sinclair’s best friends.

He’d been devilish clever about it. No one knew, no one had even the ghost of a suspicion of the deadly, black-hearted hatred he felt for the man he had just left. The world thought they were friends: even Sinclair himself thought so–damned fool that he was. It would come as a slight shock to him to-morrow when he realised the truth.

But no one else would ever know it. And in case his plan, thought out and perfected in every little detail since he had heard that Sinclair was going down alone to his empty house in Kent–just in case it miscarried, the question of motive would never indicate him with unerring finger. He was safe on that point.

Not that the matter was ever likely to arise in this case. Before people begin talking about motive it must look as if the cause of death was murder. And he had no intention of allowing Sinclair’s death to look like murder. It was to be accidental: a shocking, ghastly accident. He pictured himself hurrying back from Scotland when he heard the terrible news: comforting Enid–Sinclair’s wife.

Widow, rather–not wife: Sinclair’s widow. Just his card to start with: his card and a little message of tender sympathy for her in her great sorrow. Perhaps some flowers. And then after a week or so he would see her for a few minutes, and let her realise how his heart bled for her. Nothing precipitate, of course, he was far too old a stager with women for that. But in six months perhaps–or maybe a year–the time would be ripe.

Basil Pender’s white teeth bared in a sudden ungovernable snarl. What waste of time! Six weeks, six minutes were too long to wait. How dared that swine Sinclair come between him and Enid? How dared he make her his wife?

The sweat glistened on his forehead, and he shook his fists in the air. Then with a great effort he controlled himself; this was a frame of mind in which he had forbidden himself to indulge. It destroyed the power of clear thought, and clear thought was essential for success. After all, the perpetration of a murder was very much like a game of chess. Move followed move, and provided no mistake was made the result was mate. And there would be no mistake in this case.

Nerve, brain, and money: given those three attributes and the thing was easy. But it was interesting–devilish interesting. The whole thing had a fascination about it which he would hardly have believed possible. Once again his thoughts drifted back to Creswell: what was it he had been saying? He could see him now with a fat cigar between his lips, lying back in his chair and emphasising his points with a podgy finger.

“It’s those unexpected, unlooked for, unallowed for, isolated facts against which no criminal can guard, however skilfully he lays his plans. He may think that be has allowed for everything–taken into account every possible contingency, then suddenly–out of the blue–comes one disconnected event, and the whole carefully-thought-out scheme goes wrong.”

Well, of course, there was something in that. But the same might be said of anything in life: not only crime. And in this case he had reduced the risk of anything unexpected happening to a minimum. There was nothing difficult about his scheme, in fact, it was extraordinarily simple. It amused him now to recall the complicated plans be had evolved in the past for killing Sinclair. For years he had hated him: from the days they were at school together he had hated him. And then, to cap everything, he had married Enid. It was that which had definitely suggested murder to his mind.

At first he had hardly treated the matter seriously. Idly he had thought out different schemes–schemes of all sorts and descriptions which had, however, one common factor. Each one of them ended in the same way–with Sinclair’s death. And gradually the matter had insisted upon being taken seriously. He found himself thinking of it at all hours of the day. If he woke in the night the picture of Sinclair with Enid by his side would come to him out of the darkness.

But it is one thing to think of murder: to do it is altogether different. Murderers who get caught suffer an unpleasant fate, and Fender had no intention whatever of being hanged. And since in all his schemes the risk of his suffering that fate had been pronounced, they had remained just schemes. And then suddenly three days ago had come the idea. He had been dining with the Sinclairs, and the conversation had turned on White Lodge, their house in Kent. It had been in the hands of the builders; new bathrooms put in, fresh papers, all sorts of improvements. And now it was empty; the workmen had gone; the keys had been returned to Sinclair.

“A darned good job they have made of it, too,” his host had said. “I’ve got to go down there on Thursday to get a gun of mine which I forgot to bring up with me. Why don’t you come down with me, Basil? I know Enid can’t: she’s got some show on that day. We could take down some sandwiches, and feed in the hall; and we’ll test the new broadcasting set.”

It had been some power outside his own that had made him answer as he did. At that moment the devilish idea had not come to him; he was only conscious of a strong desire to make some excuse to avoid spending a day alone with Sinclair. If Enid had been going it would have been different. “Thanks very much,” he had remarked; “but I shall probably be starting for Scotland on Thursday.”

No more had been said: he usually did go to Scotland about that time: there was nothing strange or unusual in the fact. But when he returned to his rooms the idea had been born. He had not been going to Scotland on Thursday, but he had said so–said so in front of Enid. And Sinclair was going to White Lodge on Thursday–an empty house. He knew White Lodge well; he had stayed there in the past. It was a desolate sort of place, half a mile from the road and surrounded by trees. Enid had wanted her husband to sell it, but it had a sentimental attraction for him, and he had compromised by having it completely done up. And suddenly there had recurred to his mind a remark he had heard her make when she first saw the house.

“It looks the sort of place where anything might happen–murder or ghosts.”

Murder! Strange that she should have said that. Almost prophetic. Murder! For a moment or two he had recoiled from the thought: this was different to the fantastic schemes he had so often planned out in the past. This was the real thing: he knew that with a sort of blinding certainty even before he began to think out details. Well–what if it was? Step by step he had worked it out–discarding here, building up there. And after a while he became almost staggered with the simplicity of the thing. Surely murder must be a more complicated matter than this?

Coolly and logically he had examined every move, and could find no fault. And now once more on Wednesday night he strove to discover a flaw. It was not too late yet: he had done nothing incriminating so far. He had merely removed one of his two cars to a strange garage, and mentioned at the club that he was off to Scotland next morning. It was perfectly easy to return the car to its usual home and change his mind about Scotland.

And the other two things–the tiny phial filled with a colourless liquid, and the four short straps now reposing in the locked drawer of his desk. There was nothing suspicious about them. No question of poison–nothing so crude as that. Poison lingers in the system, and chemists ask questions if you ask them for poison. But a strong sleeping draught is quite a normal affair; and straps of all sorts and conditions are useful for motoring.

No; there was no flaw. And with a smile of satisfaction Pender turned out the light in his sitting-room and went to bed.

It was to his permanent garage that he repaired in the morning, and five minutes later he drove away in his touring Sunbeam. He left it in Waterloo Place, and getting into a taxi he gave the address of the second garage.

“Just starting for Scotland,” he informed the manager, and having settled his bill he drove round to his rooms for luggage. It was early yet for much traffic, and half an hour saw him not far from his destination–Hitchin. And in Hitchin, strange and peculiar magneto trouble occurred–due doubtless to the use of a screwdriver in skilful hands on that delicate piece of mechanism. So pronounced was the trouble, however, that it became necessary to invoke the assistance of a local garage. And with becoming gravity Pender listened to the diagnosis.

“I see,” he said, when the mechanic had finished. “Possibly some hours, you say. Then I think that I will go out and call on friends and return later. I might even stay the night with them. That will give you plenty of time to make a good job of it.”

With which remark he left the garage, and made his way to the station where he took a first-class return ticket to London. The excellent train service was one of the reasons which had made him decide on Hitchin. It was not too close into London, but the journey did not take long. And it was essential that he should be at the White House before lunch time.

He ran over the car time-table as he sat in his Corner seat. He would take the Sunbeam from Waterloo Place, and motor down to White Lodge in it. He knew the exact spot where he would leave it–not too near the house, not too far away. A deserted spot where the chances of the car being seen were remote. And even if it was seen who would pay any attention?

Then after it was over he would return to London, and leave it in St. James’s Square. Not Waterloo Place again; the man in charge there might recognise him. And then back to Hitchin by train. It would depend on the time whether he telephoned to his usual garage from there, or from some place farther north.

“Completely forgot the Sunbeam; send a man round to St. James’s Square for it.”

That would be the message; further proof that he was on his way to Scotland. But he couldn’t have done it if both cars had been at the same place. It looks silly to get one car to start with and then go back a few minutes later to get the other.

Brain–that was it; that was the whole secret. Just like chess, only a thousand times more fascinating.

It was just half-past eleven as he drove past the Oval. He had an hour’s run before him, and it struck him that he could not have timed it better. Sinclair was dining at Ranelagh that evening, so he wouldn’t be remaining too late at White Lodge. And any way the sooner the thing was done the better. It would enable him to get farther on the Great North Road before calling up his garage.

He left the car in the place he had decided on. Not a soul was in sight; for the last two miles he had seen no one. The house was a hundred yards away, almost hidden in the trees, and he strolled towards it quite openly.

There was a possibility that Enid might have altered her mind at the last moment, or that Sinclair had brought someone else down with him.

If so, he was not committed to anything; therein lay the beauty–the simplicity of the scheme. He had merely changed his mind about Scotland, and having nothing better to do had run down to see the improvements at White Lodge as Sinclair had suggested.

At the front door shod Sinclair’s car, and as Vender stepped on to the drive Sinclair himself appeared.

“Hullo I old man,” he cried. “I thought you were on the road to Scotland.”

“Changed my mind at the last moment,” said Pender easily, “so I thought I’d come down and see the house.”

“But where’s your car?”

“I stupidly missed the turn out of the village, and got on to the track leading through the copse. It’s up there now.”

“Well, it’s quite safe there, anyway. Let’s have some lunch, and then I’ll show you round.”

“All alone?” asked Pender.

“Yes, Enid couldn’t come.”

He was rummaging in the car for sandwiches, and Pender turned away quickly. So it was the end after all, and at the moment he did not want Sinclair to it his face.

“Come on in. There is enough grub here for a regiment, and I’ll search round and get another glass.”

He led the way to the gun-room, leaving his flask on the table. Then he went out, and Pender heard him wandering round the back premises.

Now that the actual time had come he felt as cool as ice: it was all so simple and easy. From his pocket he took the little phial, and taking out the stopper he emptied the contents into the flask. Then slipping the empty phial back in his pocket he strolled over to the window.

“This is about the only room in the house they haven’t touched,” said Sinclair, as he came in with a glass a few moments later. “I left everything as it was in here–guns and all. Say when.”

“I won’t have any whisky, thanks. Just a little of that Perrier.”

“Well, I’ve got a thirst on me like the devil,” said the other, mixing himself a drink. “Get on with the sandwiches.”

Sinclair drained his glass with a sigh of relief, and proceeded to mix himself another.

“They really have made a very good job of it. The extra bathrooms make the whole difference.”

“Excellent,” said Pender. “I shall look forward to having a go at your pheasants later on.” His eyes, narrowed and expectant, had seen the sudden half-drunken lurch given by Sinclair.

“Good Lord, Pender,” he cried, “I feel damned funny.”

“Take another drink. It may be the heat or something.”

“I feel–absolutely–blotto. It can’t be anything–anything–matter–whisky.”

He looked stupidly across the table, and then his eyes closed and his head fell forward. With a gigantic effort he rose to his feet, only to fall back in his chair again. Sinclair slept.

With a faint smile Pender got up: the thing was done. There were one or two small points now to be attended to, but the main thing was done, and more successfully and easily than he had ever dared to hope.

First he took from his pocket a pair of wash-leather gloves, and picking up his glass he dried it carefully with a clean pocket handkerchief. Then leaving the room he returned it to its proper place in the pantry. Next he took up the flask, and Sinclair’s tumbler, and emptied the contents of both down the sink, afterwards replacing them on the table beside the unconscious man. To give the impression that the flask had been emptied would make the accident seem more credible. Just a little too much to drink: just enough to make Sinclair a trifle careless...

Then from his pocket he removed four straps, and still retaining his gloves he fastened Sinclair’s hands and feet to the arms and legs of the chair in which he was sprawling. He wasn’t quite sure how long it would be before Sinclair recovered from the effect of the sleeping draught, and the binding process must be done before that happened.

And now remained only the final thing. From the glass- fronted cupboard in the corner he took a double-barrelled gun, and into one of the barrels he slipped a cartridge. Sinclair still slept.

For a moment or two Pender hesitated. It would be so easy to do it now. And it would be safer. Everything had gone so wonderfully that it seemed like tempting Fate to delay. There sat the man he hated, unconscious, and at his mercy. He had only to press the trigger and the thing would be done. But where would be the satisfaction in that? He wanted Sinclair to understand–to realise what was going to happen to him. He wanted revenge, and to kill an unconscious man was no revenge. He wanted to see terror dawn in those keen blue eyes: above all, he wanted to speak about Enid.

Half an hour passed and Sinclair still lolled forward in his chair, while Pender sat opposite him–waiting. And then suddenly the sleeper awoke and stared dazedly across the table.

“Where am I?” he muttered, foolishly. “What’s happened?”

“You are at White Lodge, Sinclair,” said Pender quietly. “And I gave you a little drug to send you to sleep which seems to have acted admirably.”

“But why am I bound like this?” He was struggling against the fog in his brain.

“Because, before I kill you, I want to have a talk with you, Sinclair. And I adopted that method to ensure your keeping still.”

Sinclair blinked foolishly. Kill! What the devil was Pender thinking about? Kill! Was he mad? Were they both mad?

“Doubtless you feel a little surprised, Sinclair. You wonder if you are still dreaming. But I can assure you that you are not: you are very much awake.”

“Is this some damned silly jest, Pender?” His mind was clearing rapidly. “If so, it’s gone far enough. And what the devil is that gun doing on the table?”

“We will come to the gun in due course, my friend.” Pender leaned across the table, and his teeth showed in a sudden snarl. “You swine; I can hardly believe that I’ve got you at last.”

Sinclair said nothing; full realisation of his position had come to him. Of course the man had gone off his head; he was alone–bound and powerless–with a homicidal maniac.

“Please don’t think that I’m mad, Sinclair,” continued Pender, as if divining his thoughts. “I can assure you that I’ve never been saner in my life. This is merely the logical outcome of the intense hatred I’ve felt for you for years. It started at school, Sinclair. Do you remember on one occasion thrashing me till I was almost unconscious?”

“Because you came for me with a knife,” answered the other quietly.

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